|New England had its share of pirates on the high seas, perhaps because of the many small coastal towns. Then, as now, it was difficult to make a living from the sea--at least by fishing alone. One notorious husband and wife team used the Isles of Shoals for their base.
They began their lives together innocently enough. Rachel Wall was a maid on Beacon Hill in Boston; her husband George was a fisherman. They aspired to more after George served for a time aboard a Privateer during the American Revolution, for many a privateer turned to piracy. The line dividing the two was often very narrow, as witnessed in the writings of Dr. Alexander Hamilton in 1744.
After stealing a sloop in Essex and moving to Appledore Island, the Walls passed as a fishing family. Then they hit upon a plan worthy of Ulysses' Sirens. Flying a distress signal from their small fishing sloop, Rachel--a lone woman--would scream for help when they spotted a ship. When it came alongside, the captain and crew were summarily murdered by George and his friends. It is said that during the summers of 1781 and 82 the Walls collected $6,000 in cash, killed 24 men, and sank their ships--minus their cargo, which they then sold in Boston and Portsmouth.
The pirates were never caught. In fact, it was assumed that the missing ships had gone down at sea. But the Walls' murderous streak came to an end during a hurricane on the Atlantic, when George and several other crewmen were drowned. Rachel had been doing her damsel-in-distress act. Now, she found herself in need of rescue in earnest. Pulled to safety and newly widowed, she retired from the sea and resumed her former life as a maid for the Beacon Hill Brahmins.
Her quiet life was short-lived. It may have been too quiet--or simply not profitable enough. As a pastime--perhaps on her afternoon off--Rachel would sneak onto vessels docked in Boston Harbor and help herself to what she could from unlocked cabins.
She was caught red-handed in September of 1789 with a handful of baubles not her own. When a dead sailor was found below-decks, Rachel was accused of his murder. Tried and convicted to hang on Boston Commons, Rachel pled her innocence even as the hangman's noose was placed around her neck. She did, however, stun the crowd with a confession of her days of piracy. She was the last woman executed in the state of Massachusetts, according to New England's Pirates and Lost Treasures by Robert Ellis Cahill, "and the last known pirate to work out of the Isles of Shoals."